Sunday, December 12, 2021

Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon

Tis no secret that I am a full-throated fan of the Fire Emblem games, for I have posted about Birthright and Revelations, Sacred Stones, Awakening, Heroes, and, most recently, Three Houses, as if they were books (and I intend to give Shadows of Valentia, Blazing and Binding Blade the same treatment). Rightly so for, as I so often state, the Fire Emblem games have storylines that are better than some books. As my college friend Renan recently said, "By the seventh game, support conversations to flesh out even the most minor characters and lengthy plots driven by fantastical political drama were simply part of the [Fire Emblem] franchise’s appeal. In a series where dying actually means losing playable characters, the fact a minor knight with no lines in the main script can get as much development as a lead is significant. In the eyes of most fans, Fire Emblem was a franchise where even minor characters had depth and story was as important as gameplay." Indeed, Lucina from Fire Emblem: Awakening is a hero I rank alongside Aragorn.

Yet while Awakening was for many the jumping off point of their Fire Emblem adventures, for me it was not so. For me it was, fittingly, Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon and its direct sequel Fire Emblem: New Mystery of the Emblem - Heroes of Light and Shadow. Why fittingly and direct? Those who have played Awakening are quite familiar with the name of Marth, the Hero-King of legend who saved the continent from darkness two thousand years prior, and ancestor of Awakening's chief protagonists Chrom, Lissa, and Lucina. You know the dragonkin Tiki whom was friends with Hero-King Marth and misses him deeply, yet awakens to help his descendants. Yet you do not know Marth or Tiki as I do, nor any who have played Shadow Dragon and New Mystery of the Emblem - Heroes of Light and Shadow, for the main protagonist of those games is none other than Marth himself, and the storyline how he became the Hero-King! Namely the War of Shadows and the subsequent and tragic War of Heroes.

That dragon in the background is Tiki
For those who love Awakening, Shadow Dragon is a must as the former is full of hidden references to the later. Ever wondered why Cherche's wyvern is named Minerva? In the C Support Conversation shared between Stahl and Sully, they speak of two of Marth's knights called Cain the Bull and Abel the Panther. Meet Tiki as a child and witness how she first met and befriended Mar-Mar (and Marth's reaction to being called that). Here is a fragment of the A Support Conversation between Lucina and Cynthia (when they are not sisters): 

Cynthia: "My mother used to tell me a story as a girl. One set in the age of the great King Marth. There were three sisters who were pegasus knights, and unrivaled in battle or beauty!"

Lucina: "It sounds like a typical enough cradle tale so far..."

Cynthia: "When faced with a great challenge, they joined three as one for their Triangle Attack! By harnessing their combined strength, they were able to slay any enemy!"

Lucina: "Any foe?" 

Cynthia: "They say even the most fearsome foe fell before the Triangle Attack! And every team attack since has been an attempt to recapture that awesome power."

I was grinning ear-to-ear when I reached this part of the conversation, because I knew who these sisters were. As, interestingly, will anyone who has played Shadows of Valentia, for they are none other than the Whitewing Sisters Palla, Catria, and Est, faithful servants and friends of Wyvern-Rider Princess Minerva of Macedon. On that note, for the sake of those interested in the timeline, the events Shadows of Valentia occur after the War of Shadows and before the War of Heroes (i.e. between Shadow Dragon and New Mystery of the Emblem - Heroes of Light and Shadow). I am seriously looking forward to learn what brought them across the ocean along with that crazy sword Falchion; I swear that blade gets around more that most people do.

Talking of which, one will appreciate the sword Falchion, and your unrestricted and double access too it in Awakening like never before in Shadow Dragon. And, among other things, learn that the Shield which Chrom and co. call the Fire Emblem actually went by a very different name in ages past. THAT is one of the reasons why I loved Awakening so much; not just because it was an amazing game in its own right, but because the characters were the decedents of cherished friends, and the world one I was quite familiar with. Well, geographically familiar with leastways seeing as none of the countries from Marth's time were still around. A pity that, as I would have loved seeing the school of magic at Khadein again but, alas, it and Kingdom of Aurelis were now part of Regna Ferox. You also meet lots of new friends, including that the formidable Pegasus Knight who eventually becomes Marth's bride and, if you manage to find the secret shops, Anna the Merchant as the she first appeared, and so many others whose names will be imprinted upon your soul. (Even learn about the man who was the great hero of legend during Marth's time; a man long forgotten by the time Lucina walks the earth). Point of order, though, it offended me that Marth's fiancée, Princess Caeda, was not mentioned seeing as she was an absolute powerhouse on the battlefield; my best Pegasus Knight by a leap and a bound even next to Palla, Catria, and Est, as well as an army-recruiter beyond all compare. I am sure people can see a bit of Lissa and Lucina in Caeda.

Moving beyond the story element now, while it may not have the graphics, marriage, or paired-unit system of Awakening and FatesShadow Dragon is the easily among the best Fire Emblem has to offer. Step into the shoes of Prince Marth of Altea and take the first steps that becomes the journey that made him the Hero-King of legend. The battles are more challenging requiring greater tactical skill than  Awakening, Fates, and Three Houses, for one does not have the benefit of paired-united or non-degrading weapons. I am by a now a Fire Emblem veteran, yet most of the battles I am most proud of winning were in Shadow Dragon and New Mystery of the Emblem - Heroes of Light and Shadow. If you want to know more, I suggest you read Renan's article (for it inspired me to write this post) and this one here.

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